Sunday, 26 June 2016

Cranleigh parkrun

Cranleigh is a large village in Surrey which has a population of just over 11,000 people. It is thought that the name came from the two Old English words 'Cran' (meaning Crane) and Leoh which combined essentially mean 'a clearing in a wood which is visited by Cranes'.

There are large Crane breeding grounds at Vachery Pond (known locally as Vachery) so that all ties together quite nicely. The village (along with twelve others) lays claim to the being the largest village in England.


To the south of the village you'll find Knowle House which was formerly the centre piece of a small estate called Knowle. This is now a care home but was formerly a private house owned by Bruce Mckenzie - a South African man who was a politician in Kenya eventually becoming confidant of Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and had close links to leaders all across the world. Bruce Mckenzie was assassinated in 1978 when the small plane he was travelling on was destroyed over by a bomb whilst flying over Uganda.

In 2013 Cranleigh council exchanged some land with a local businessman for the building of a new hospital. As part of the deal the land adjacent to Knowle House was gifted to Cranleigh Parish Council and became a sports field called 'The Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Field'.

run briefing / start

On 4 Oct 2014 the sports field and the adjacent fields became home to Cranleigh parkrun. Interestingly, when I visited I heard word that some of these fields are under threat of development which could jeopardise the future of this parkrun venue.

So I turned up and parked in the free, on-site car park at the Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Field. The car park is pretty small so if it is full the official advice is to park across the road in the Snoxhall Fields car park which is also free-of-charge. Failing that there are a few other car parks in the centre of the village but you'll have to pay to use those. As far as non-car travel is concerned, it's not ideal. There used to be a train station in Cranleigh but this was closed in 1965. The closest train station is now Guildford and the onward journey can be completed in 25 minutes by bus (53 or 63).

through the long grass

With the exception of the car park, there are no facilities at all at the sports field so if you need the toilet you'll need to go elsewhere.

The official parkrun page suggests that runners use the toilets in the nearby leisure centre but it is worth noting that the toilets are on the other side of the entry barriers and I felt a little nervous asking to go through. Fortunately there is a public toilet block a few metres away from the leisure centre so I nipped in there.

the hill

As mentioned above, the run itself takes place on the Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Fields and also uses the adjacent fields. It is a two-lap course and underfoot is entirely grass and dirt with the exception of a few footsteps at the end of the first lap where the course briefly enters a coned off section of the car park. The profile is best described as a combination of flat and mildly undulating with the addition of a hill to climb halfway around each lap.

On more than one occasion I have heard/read the route described as 'convoluted' and while this might sound a little harsh, it does actually sum it up quite nicely (in a good way). I suppose technically it's only the second half of each lap that can be described in this way.

other side of the hill

The first half of each lap is quite straightforward and follows the natural paths in a natural way. I'd like to give a special mention to the long grass that hugs the footpath at the 500 metre (and again at 3.1km) point - I found each knee-high blade of grass whipped my shins as I passed through and although there was no long-lasting damage, my legs were pretty tender from it straight after the run.

Also in the non-convoluted first-half of the course is the hill. It's a gentle slog uphill for about 200 metres or so. It levels out for a bit where you can enjoy the view across the Surrey Hills (it's worth putting in the effort to glance sideways during the way up) and then sends you back down via a pretty steep downhill. The really steep part doesn't last for too long but it's worth being aware of it beforehand.

the twisty sections

It's after this point where the convoluted part starts and involves quite a lot of weaving around the fields which is great fun for people like me that love twists and turns.

Another thing worth noting is that as you near the end of each lap (at 1.8km and again at 4.4km) there is a small bench on the other side of a blind bend which effectively sits right on the natural running line - there is a path next to it but it would be easy to crash into the bench if you were in full flight and not paying attention. The final section of each lap is on the Bruce Mckenzie Playing Fields where after a bit more weaving around the finish line is reached.

the final stretch

As I've mentioned, underfoot is grass and dirt paths, and as it was summer I wore my light trail shoes. I visited this venue on 25 June 2016 for event 92 and there were a few slightly splashy sections which lead to me finishing the run with wet feet. I was glad that I'd brought a change of socks and shoes so I'd advise doing that. In the winter I suspect this course is likely to be a mud-bath so it'll be a case of full trail shoes or even spikes.

For the full course GPS details you can see my data on Strava: Cranleigh parkrun 92


The venue had been a delight to visit - I found everyone to be really nice and the atmosphere felt friendly and relaxed. I didn't join the team for post-run coffee but I did have a good chat to some of the volunteers and some fellow parkrun tourists which was very nice. I also managed to bag myself a piece of chocolate brownie after the run which rounded a great morning off nicely.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

City of London Mile 2016

The City of London Mile is a free, 1 mile race that takes place on closed roads in the area around St, Paul's Cathedral. 2016 marked the third year the race was held and it was the first time we had taken part. I signed myself and the family up online and as I mentioned earlier, the race is free.

On the day of the race we travelled up to Central London by train and alighted at Cannon Street Station which is just a short walk away from the race village, which was on the road which runs along the eastern border of St. Paul's Cathedral, New Change. Upon arrival I changed into my running gear and as the course was 100% tarmac I went for my New Balance Zante V2 shoes.

Number collection was available in the week leading up to the event from Run-Fast (The Running Works) in the City of London. However, I couldn't make it over there so we just collected our numbers on-the-day from the collection point. I actually had to pick up two numbers for myself because I had entered two waves; a race wave so that I could have a good tear-up and also the family mile where I could run with my wife and daughter.

pre-race [photos: dani / 7t]

We met up with some friends from Dartford parkrun and found a nice base to hang out near the finish. As each of our waves came around a few of us would head off while the others watched the bags and cheered. Incidentally there was also a bag drop facility, but we didn't use it. The queue to collect bags was pretty long later in the morning so I was quite pleased that we had had an alternative in place.

The first of our waves to head off was the wave that me and my friend Adam were assigned, which was wave 3. I have to admit being a little confused by the system that was in place at first. Runners in a wave were called to a waiting area in the race village and then moved around to a second waiting area before finally being allowed into the start pen, which was on the road to the south of the cathedral called St. Paul's Churchyard right at the point where it changes into Cannon Street.

What didn't help was that the guy calling the runners only had a very small portable megaphone thingy and we didn't hear it until he was calling wave 4. Anyway, we figured things out and ended up in the start pen with the rest of wave 3. There were 314 people in wave 3 which made the start area felt pretty tight and when the starting pistol was fired it took a few seconds to reach the timing mats.

ready to go [photos: 7t]

The course, which was slightly different from the route published on the official web page, took the runners from St Paul's along Cannon Street where the course bore left onto Queen Victoria Street and past Bank Station. The next part consisted of an anti-clockwise loop of the Bank of England along Threadneedle Street, Bartholomew Street which was ever-so-slightly downhill, then onto Lothbury. This was the halfway point of the course.

The loop continued with a left-hand turn onto Princes Street where the loop of the Bank was complete. The route then headed through Poultry and onto Cheapside for the last 400 metres. Cheapside is on an extremely gentle incline as it leads back towards St Paul's Cathedral. The finish line is located just before the junction at the north end of New Change where the runners collect their medal and are fed directly back into the race village.

As far my race was concerned, it went pretty well but I think my head gave up as I was running along that last 400 metre stretch and I just didn't want to push any harder than I was - you can see in the photo below how tense my shoulders look. Although there was, what felt like, a fair amount of congestion along the course, it didn't really affect my pace. However, the congestion did have the effect of keeping me well off of the racing line most of the way around which was frustrating. I crossed the line and almost immediately received a text message containing my finishing time - I was really impressed with that. You can see the course on my Strava trace of the race, here: City of London Mile GPS data

around the course [photos: 7t / dani]

About an hour later, and just after some of our other friends had set off, I was back on the start line for family wave 1 with my wife and daughter. This time around was a more relaxed and a lot of fun, but still very busy. There was plenty of support and my daughter really loved it. However her favourite bit was right near the end where she got some huge cheers from our friends near the finish line. She was all smiles and waves here.

A few seconds later we all crossed the finish line (again the results text message was instant - I hadn't even stopped Strava from recording when it came through). We worked our way around to the end of the finish area, collected our medals and water, and then headed into the race village and then back over to our spot near the finish line where we continued to watch the rest of the races.

I can't help but compare this event to the Westminster Mile (blogs: 2013 / 2015 / 2016), after all they are both 1 mile events in the centre of London. For me the Westminster Mile edges it as my favourite of the two and mostly this comes down to a few things. Firstly, I prefer then setting of the Westminster Mile. Green Park is the perfect race village and the green areas make for much more pleasant surroundings; ideal for a post-race picnic.

family race [photos: dani / 7t]

The City of London Mile did have the upper hand as far as entry fee is concerned (totally free) and of course the instant results text messaging service was amazing. My only slight gripe about the results was that the text message gave the exact finish time to the nearest 100th of a second, but the final results viewed on the official results page rounded the finish time up or down to the nearest second.

So my 5:42.68 finish time became a 5:43 - not the end of the world and I imagine it's standard practise to do these things. It's just never nice to think you've run a certain time only to lose a second a few hours later. I think it would have been better to have the times match, so either have the text messaged time rounded up before being sent or just publish the official times including 100ths of a second so they match in that way. Not so bad if you're rounded down because the mm:ss is still the same. *rant over*

With the running all done, we all headed off to find some food. Most of my friends are also vegetarian so it made sense to go and support a local vegetarian business. We headed off to Sagar which is a South Indian Vegetarian restaurant just off of Covent Garden. This was followed by some vegan ice cream in Yorica which is on Wardour Street. Exhausted but happy we headed over to Charing Cross where we caught the train back to Dartford.

medals and smiles everywhere

Results Wave 3:
Me: 5:42.68 (rounded up to 5:43 in the official results)

Results Family Wave 1:
Dani: 12:17
Matilda: 12:16
Me: 12:16

Full Results: City of London Mile on (main page)
Full Results: City of London Mile Results (with search 'Stockwell' applied)
GPS data from my run in wave 3: City of London Mile Strava Data

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Run>Dartford: Darenth Country Park 3x2 Mile Relay 2016

If you've read the other two Run>Dartford blog posts you'll know by now that this race is part of a summer series of races in five different locations in Dartford. To date we've had the Dartford Heath 5k Race 2016 and the Central Park 4 Mile Race 2016 with the July Joydens Wood 5k and the Thames River Path 10k still to come.

The 3rd race of the series was a 3x2 Mile relay race with the teams being made up using the runner's previous times in order to attempt to give each team a fair chance of winning. I was selected to be in team D along with Ben Sowden and Arthur Dunne.

A quick discussion of tactics before the race lead to us opting to run in an order which saw us get progressively faster as the race unfolded. Ben would go first, then Arthur and finally me. The country park is made up of a pleasant patchwork of fields, meadows and copses. The takes in a mixture of hard surfaces, dirt paths and grass - as it was summer, all were very runable in road shoes but I had chosen to go for my light trail shoes, which were also fine.

team d

The race got under at around 7.15pm and the atmosphere was chilled and relaxed - it felt a bit like hanging out at a friend's garden. As I was running my team's third leg I spent the first part of the evening chatting and milling around, then once our first runner, Ben, had returned and Arthur had set off, I thought it was probably time to have a second warm-up (the first was my cycle ride over to the venue).

When I caught sight of Arthur returning to the change-over zone, I got in a good position, we tagged and off I went. Anyone local to Dartford will no doubt be aware that Darenth Country Park is adjacent to Gore Hill and just hearing the name strikes fear into the hearts of many local runners (you run up it at the 10 mile point in the Dartford Half Marathon). Anyway after an initial stretch on a gravelly path, the route turned into Candle Field where a good chunk of the Gore Hill incline was run. I kept my pace under strict control as it would have been so easy to burn out early on.

The runners followed the obvious mowed grass route around the edge of the field before being directed into the next field 'Saxon Ground'. This was the site of ancient Saxon burials and to date 12 graves have been discovered here along with many Saxon artifacts, including a completely intact glass bowl dating back to AD450 - This is apparently on display in Dartford Borough Museum, I must go and have a look.

thanks to richey for the running photo

After running through Darenth Meadow the runners then had a short downhill section along the edge of Hogtrough before joining another gravelly path which went past Southern Rest (cemetery) and onto the avenue of Horse Chestnut trees which line Southern Drive. This section was also downhill and very fast. It lead back down almost to the lowest point of the course - this might sound good however we now had to go almost right back up to the highest point of the course.

After the long slog back up, there was only 1 kilometre left, and as I had already taken a peek at the course profile I knew that it was all flat/downhill from here, so felt more comfortable increasing the pace. This lead along the edges of Hogtrough, Swaisland and then back into Candle Field where it was time to head back down the first incline. The very last section was a sprint back along the opening gravelly path to the start/finish/change-over point.

With that all over it was time to reflect on what had been a thoroughly enjoyable summers evening. The hosts Dartford Road Runners had put on another brilliant event and brought with them a fantastic vibe. The results for this series are being published in order of age grading instead of finishing time and it really is making things feel very inclusive. Also, while club shirts are welcome the overall theme has been for runners to take part wearing regular running attire and again this has helped to create a very inclusive atmosphere.

darenth country park

There was a prize for the fastest team of the evening, which was team L who each received a small bottle of Prosecco as a prize. My team finish 8th out of the 17 teams. The full results were up the next morning and I ran the hilly 2 mile course in 13.18 which made me the third fastest runner of the evening (11th by age grading).

I have managed to move up to 5th position in the overall points table for the series (points are awarded based on age grading for that particular race). This is down to two of the runners that were ahead of me did not run rather than any exceptional performance by me. The consolidated points table can be found via this link - Run>Dartford Series 2016 Point Table

Time: 13.18
Position (age graded): 11th
Full Results: Darenth Country Park 3 x 2 Mile Race 2016
Age Grading: 62.47%
Current Points in Table: 192.89 (overall 5th)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Dartford parkrun 95 - My 250th

I'm writing this while still quite overwhelmed with everything that happened at my 250th parkrun. From Terry's Facebook message to Richey's balloons on the finish funnel and 250 hedgehog cake. From Tessa's lovely words during the run briefing to the unexpected visitors and Jane's special cake, it was a lot to take in and I'm extremely grateful to everyone that helped to make it a very special morning.

cakes and stuff [photos: dani / 7t]

The last time I ran an official milestone parkrun was on 13 July 2013 at Riddlesdown parkrun's second year anniversary event (100 club). The one before that (50 club) was run on 5 May 2012 at Riddlesdown parkrun 47 (in the rain). A lot has changed in the last three years and for my 250th parkrun the only place I could really imagine running was Dartford parkrun - so that's where I went.

Being a special run, I wanted to do all the things I like best at parkrun. So I put myself down on the roster to do the pre-event set-up, I would then run the parkrun and immediately transfer to barcode scanning. The run-scan combo was something that I did every week in the early days of Dartford parkrun and it was only when my knee started having some issues that I had to temporarily give it up.

running / v25 / balloons [photos: dani / tessa]

Once I'd got the running part out of the way, I donned the hi-vis vest and picked up the barcode scanner and purple bumbag to continue scanning. It was here that so many people congratulated me on the achievement and I really wasn't expecting anything like this. Still overwhelmed.

Dani and Matilda have of course been to many parkruns with me and their continued support is priceless. I'm very grateful to them for putting up with my constant parkrun chat and early Saturday morning alarm calls. Incidentally, they have volunteered quite a lot themselves (see below) and Matilda's junior-sized V25 shirt became available to order recently. Today she proudly showed it off for the first time.

volunteers [photos: dani]

Something I always do for my own records in these milestone posts is make a note of a few stats:

Time taken to reach 250 parkruns (from my first parkrun on 28 May 2011)
1842 days
263 weeks
5 years and 15 days

My parkrunning stats:
250 parkruns (72 at Riddlesdown. 69 at Dartford. 109 elsewhere)
103 different venues
5 first finishes (Barking, Beckton, and three at Dartford)
19 buggy runs (I thought it would have been more)
65 sub-20 parkruns (16 of those were sub-19)
39 freedom runs logged (22 different venues. 10 5k courses and 12 2k junior courses)
2 points competitions won (Riddlesdown 2011/12 and Dartford 2014/15)
20 non-saturday parkruns (xmas day / new years day etc)
634 members of the 250 club in total on the day I joined
0 times I have forgotten my barcode

Volunteering stats (which have been credited):
232 occasions (262 tasks performed)
8 different parkrun venues

Dani (wife)
32 parkruns
112 volunteer occasions (121 tasks)

Matilda (daughter)
4 parkruns (full 5k)
27 junior parkruns (12 different venues)
53 volunteer occasions (54 tasks)

250 club

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